Writing is a Bitter Business

I was talking to a friend the other day about blogging. I enjoy her blog posts and I asked her why she doesn’t blog more. She said, “I think I sound bitter.” I thought about that, and while I didn’t think that was true, I realized she had a point.

Writing is a bitter business.

When I say writing, I mean all aspects of it. Finding the time to write, the building of your writer’s platform, publishing, and finding readers.

Why is writing a bitter business?

Let’s explore:

  1. Writing is hard.
    No one appreciates what you go through on a daily basis. Writing words is hard, and lonely. And no one can make you do the work. It’s not like going to a real job where you get paid every two weeks, and you can get fired for not showing up. Sometimes it takes months to earn royalties; sometimes it takes years. Sometimes the only payment you receive for your writing is your own sense of of accomplishment. If that isn’t enough for you, how do you keep going? What makes you turn on your laptop or open that notebook or open that Google Docs app on your phone day after day after day? Besides raising children and being a faceless trash collector, I can’t think of a more thankless job.
  2. There’s no pay.
    I touched on this a bit in number one. Not only is writing hard, you’re not getting paid. I’m not getting paid for writing this blog post. I’m not getting paid for the books that are on sale on Amazon right now. I don’t get paid to tweet, update my Facebook author page, or write a long description to go with a photo on Instagram. If you feel bitter because money isn’t flowing to you, you need to think about what you can do about that.
    Do you not have books for sale? That should be your main priority. Do you offer helpful, evergreen content on your blog? Maybe sign up for Ko-fi and ask for consumers of your work to tip you for it, or start a Patreon account. The problem is, when you’re new and just starting out, getting paid is hard. No one knows who you are. But to be fair–this happens in every profession. They are called interns.

    intern joke

    taken from pinterest

    And they work for free. Sometimes if the internship is a part of their university curriculum, they PAY to intern for credit toward their diploma. I pay to blog. I pay for my domain name, and I’ve upgraded my WordPress plan.
    I’m doing the opposite of getting paid, and probably so are you.

  3. No one cares.
    This is a big one, and the one that trips up my friend. In a sea of writers and free content, no one cares what you’re doing. I feel this myself when I release a new book. I press Publish and get on with my day. There is no big cover reveal, there’s no blog tour, there’s no FB author page takeover or FB party. There are a couple reasons why I do this. One, I’m building a back list; I’m always writing the next book. And two, I know on certain platforms like Twitter, that’s not where my readers are, and announcing it won’t do anything for me. Sure, there might be a couple of people who will congratulate me, and that’s nice. But anyone cultivating their social media accounts hoping for sales will come away bitter. So I publish and keep writing.
  4. You feel like you’re screaming into the void.
    Let’s be real–that’s what blogging is at first. You blog to no one. You have zero followers, and when you check your analytics, you have zero visits.
    But that happens to absolutely everyone who starts a new blog. Everyone. It’s made even worse when you don’t have a solid social media presence to announce your blog on. Blogging is hard for writers. Do we blog for other writers? Do we blog for our readers? How do we do that if we don’t have a book out yet? What do we blog about that hasn’t been said a million times? You put in a couple of hours writing, making graphics in Canva, push Publish . . . all for nothing. It’s very easy to become bitter. To read my thoughts on starting a blog, look here.
  5. You don’t have support at home.
    Your significant other says you’re not making money, so you’re better off investing your time somewhere else. Like at a real job. Your kids want you to play. Your husband won’t help with chores. No one wants to walk the dog or scoop litter. You get accused of wasting time online when you’re trying to build a social media platform and/or write through a sticky scene in your story. Laundry needs to be done. You feel like a trout swimming upstream and some days you feel like there’s no point in fighting all this resistance.
    The problem with this is everyone needs their own life outside of who other people perceive them to be. You’re more than just a partner, a mom, a dad, a daughter or a son. People can’t see you writing, or rather, they can’t see the results. When you relax in the bath, you’re taking an hour to yourself. When you go for a run, you are doing something for your health. When you spend an hour doing almost anything else, people can see that. Appreciate it. Why is writing different? You spend an hour in front of the computer for months, sometimes years, and you walk away with your hands empty. Never mind that during that time you might have published two books digitally on Amazon. It still looks like you’ve wasted all that time. And if you don’t have sales, it’s easy to agree with the crabby husband who wants you to get a job, already. Yeah, it feels like all that work was for nothing, and bitterness takes hold.
  6. There are too many of us.
    Holy cow–the writing community has exploded on Twitter in the past couple of months. There are more writers online than lice on a kid’s head during an outbreak at school. It’s easy to feel invisible. What’s worse is we all want the same thing. We want agents and book deals and readers. And it hurts when we see other writers

    candle quote

    picturequotes.com

    earn those things. (I do say earn, because querying is hard work!) We’re told over and over again there’s only so much shelf space at the bookstore, there are only so many agents, so many publishers. While Writer Twitter is supportive, no one can deny there’s a current of competitiveness underneath the goodwill. We’re competing against each other. The saying is true–lighting someone else’s candle won’t put out your own flame–but it’s hard to watch someone get what you want. Especially if you are really trying your best.


What can we do to shake the bitterness?

  1. Define your success.
    What does success mean to you? For some people that simply means finishing a book. For others, it’s pushing the Publish button. Still for others, it’s their first five-star review. The thing with success is you need to be realistic. We all know EL James didn’t become famous over night, nor did Hugh Howey. We all start somewhere, so you need to start small and celebrate the small successes, no matter how tiny they are. That might mean buying a bottle of Prosecco for your first ten blog followers, or going out for a night of dinner and dancing with friends when you finish the first draft of your book.
  2. What do you want from social media?
    I know a few people with a love/hate relationship with Twitter, and I understand the struggle. I do. You put all this time in engaging with other people, tweeting, connecting, networking–and for what? That depends on why you’re on there. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It will show in your lack of engagement and lackluster content. If you don’t like Twitter, focus on a Facebook Author page or cultivate a following on Instagram. Because the fact is, you may hate social media, but even if you do the bare minimum and only have a website for an author landing page, you still need somewhere to announce you have one. This is especially true if you’re not publishing and you don’t have back matter in a book to use to direct your readers to your website or newsletter sign up.
    So what do you want from your social media platform? Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers. A Facebook Author page can give your readers a place to find you. Start a Facebook reader’s GROUP and form a book club or place to talk about books. If you live in a cool place like my friend who lives in Hawaii, or you have lots of pets–whatever you think will interest an audience–if you’re more visual, maybe post pictures on Instagram. But the sooner you realize that social media is more for being social and networking than selling whatever you’re peddling, you may form a truce with start to enjoy yourself. I like Twitter. I keep up care about other peoplewith industry news that way. A ton of agents and book bloggers hang out on Twitter. If you ever plan to query, befriending agents and creating a professional connection can’t steer you wrong. Social media is about caring about other people. Think of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your content needs to be about other people. If you care about other people, other people will care about you.
  3. Realize that writing is a long game.
    No one got famous overnight for writing. It just feels like they did. That debut that turns into a blockbuster is few and far between and usually has a team of people behind the launch. This year will be my third year in indie publishing. I don’t make much in sales. I only have 226 people subscribed to my blog. I have barely 100 likes on my FB author page. I have 14.7 followers on Twitter, but when I tweet something I’m lucky if I can get five likes. I could get bitter about it, but why?

    In fact, in a delicious piece of irony, on Twitter I asked writers what made them bitter about the writing/publishing industry. No one answered.

    I love to write and all of the stuff I mentioned would just be a bonus. But I’ll get there. Three years might seem like a long time for someone who wants instant gratification, but guess what? Publishing doesn’t work that way. I’m still a baby in this industry and I’m smart enough to realize it. If you’ve been writing for a year with nothing to show for it, realize this is common. People have wildly exaggerated expectations when it comes to self-publishing and while 12 years ago it could have made you rich like Amanda Hocking, it’s not true anymore. There are too many of us and times have changed. It doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel, but it does mean you have to change your way of thinking.
    If it helps, think of the intern. She might be an intern now, but in ten years she could be CEO of the company. But she’ll never make it that far if she quits.
    Or lets all those coffee runs make her bitter.

  4. Remember this is about craft.
    Sure, those people who are selling crappy books might have a sales bump every once in a while, but are they are selling to new people all the time, or are they cultivating a loyal readership with well-written stories and lovable characters? It’s easy to get caught up in the other stuff–Facebook, blogging, Twitter likes, but the fact is, none of that matters if you aren’t working on your craft. Build a foundation on good stories.
  5. People may be cheering for you without telling you.
    You could have fans without knowing it! People who want to see you succeed. They follow your blog, look for your tweets. They’re disappointed when you don’t update your author page on Facebook. You can’t assume you’re in this alone, because that probably isn’t true. Snowstorms begin with a single snowflake. Your core readership will begin with one reader. Don’t disappoint her by being bitter.

In closing, I know it’s hard. I’m right there with you. I entered All of Nothing into the RITAs, and it didn’t advance. I tried not to be bitter. Especially since I think All of Nothing is my strongest book so far. And especially since I compared it to the books I had to judge as part of my entry, and especially when I read the list of finalists.

This isn’t anything a writer wants to admit. We should all be supporting each other and be happy for one another. And I’m delighted for the finalists. But I wish I had been one.

women helping women

It doesn’t mean I’ll never have the chance to enter again, and that doesn’t mean I won’t advance in a different contest some day.

But if I let my bitterness win out, then no, there will never be other contests in my future, or other books, either. So I need to keep my focus on why I write.

Because I love it. Simple as that.

And that may not be the case for you. There’s no judgment here. If you can’t write without the support of a loved one, if you can’t blog because no one has subscribed to it, if you don’t want to finish your book because when you tweet about it no one encourages you, then don’t.

Writing isn’t for everyone. Circle back around in a couple of years when circumstances in your life change. Circle back around when your priorities have shifted. Circle back around when you’re ready to put in the time and the work.

Writing is between you and your readers. That’s it.

And there’s nothing bitter about that.

bitterness

Antagonists: Who, What, When, Where

I rarely give out writing advice, preferring to focus on indie publishing, promo results, and my own progress. I feel those topics are a lot more useful than writing tips. After all, you can finding writing tips anywhere. But I was thinking about antagonists and how ambiguous and subjective they are.

cruella de ville

Cruella is a perfect example of an evil villain. Who would want to kill cute puppies for a coat?! picture from pixabay

Antagonists in a story are usually the villains. The bad guys. Twitter chats center around them. What is their favorite color? What are they doing right now? What makes them bad? What makes them evil? What do they eat for breakfast? The hearts of their enemies, of course. Which is everyone.

There are some pretty famous villains in books and movies:

Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes
Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
Annie Wilkes, Misery
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Joker, Batman

**For more examples, since I could list them forever, look here, and here.

These are tangible characters; in these stories they are flesh and blood. They do cruel things to our main characters. Who they are is pretty cut and dried.

But sometimes things that aren’t always people can be the antagonist in a story, and sometimes the protagonist will be his own worst enemy, which will also make him the antagonist.

Let’s explore that one first.

When the protagonist is also the antagonist

woman with demons

Characters who have to battle inner demons can be their own worst enemies. photo from pixabay

This happens a lot in romance. Characters have been burned before and refuse to fall in love again. Or they don’t believe they deserve to be in love, of having someone care for them. They’ve done naughty things in the past and they believe they need to atone for those sins for the rest of their lives. This is actually a pretty popular trope in a romance. Where the hero has been in the military and something happened to his team, or the detective/cop whose partner is killed on a case and our hero blames himself. He doesn’t feel worthy of love, or he thinks why bother because he’ll just fuck that relationship up too, or worse, get her killed through his own negligence.

In these cases, the protagonist is also the antagonist. They are battling inner demons. There is a lot more to the plot than that, but in the end your hero’s love interest is supposed to help them see they are worthy of love. S/he feels they fail toward the end of the book and the hero/ine realizes if s/he doesn’t get his shit together, he’s going to lose out on the love of his/her life.

Memories, nightmares, the ex still in the picture, precinct cops who blame your hero for the death of their team member, a child left behind, they are secondary antagonists used to enforce your character’s beliefs about himself.

Gone With The Wind

Scarlett and Rhett photo taken from huffington post

Scarlett O’Hara had a couple things working against her, namely her immaturity, selfishness, and her love for her family’s plantation, Tara, not to mention, Ashley Wilkes. She wasn’t ready for Rhett to love her, and she had to live through the deaths of her father and two husbands, plus a war, before she grew up enough to understand Rhett. We all know his famous last line, and by the time she gave a damn, he didn’t.

What are other things that could be an antagonist?

Animals

Jurassic Park is a good example of this. There was no antagonist, per se. John Hammond wasn’t evil–he just wanted to open a theme park where people could enjoy seeing dinosaurs. (This brings about the ethical question, “Just because we can, should we?” But that would be the theme of the story, which is a little different than what I’m talking about here.) There were a couple of people around who were selfish and greedy, but they were not the cause of the problems in the story. I’m thinking of the first movie–the old original with Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

Other books/movies that have used animals as antagonists?
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Birds Alfred Hitchcock/Daphne du  Maurier
Cujo Stephen King
Anaconda director Luis Llosa
Jaws Peter Benchley
Piranha director Joe Dante

It’s important to note that in most cases, humans were not ordering or forcing these animals to attack. They were not weapons. Be it survival, nature, self defense, or rabies, these animals were acting on their own accord.

Disease

Disease is a popular antagonist. In Outbreak, a man who wants to sell a monkey on the black market passes along a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, and all the characters spent their time doing damage control. As with the animals, it’s important to note that in cases where disease is used as the primary antagonist, it is not being used by a human as a weapon, in which case the human using biological warfare for power/revenge/etc would be the antagonist and the disease would be the weapon. In Outbreak, I’m thinking of the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo, there were other people who wanted to contain the disease in a different way than our characters, and others who wanted to keep past illegal activity a secret and would do anything to make that happen. Does this make them antagonists? Sure, and they provide more conflict and more hurdles for our main characters to jump over. But the main antagonist is the disease. Without it, there would be no story.

Other stories that use disease:
Andromeda Strain Michael Crichton
Two by Two Nicholas Sparks (a secondary character dies of cancer)
The Fault in Our Stars John Green
Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott
My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult

I was taking a look at some other opinions about whether disease could be an antagonist, and I found rather snarky blog post saying of course not. I think she missed the point of using disease as a plot device, and you can read it here.

Nature

The setting of where your book takes place can be a powerful antagonist. When your characters are trying to farm land that won’t grow crops and your characters are dying of hunger, or your characters are involved in a plane crash and they have to escape a mountain covered in snow to survive.

The weather can be a powerful antagonist, as well. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters that will put your characters in harm’s way are fabulous antagonists.

Books/movies that use the land and weather as antagonists:
Twister director Jan de Bont
The Mountain Between Us Charles Martin
Alive director Frank Marshall
To Build a Fire Jack London
We Are Unprepared Meg Little Reilly
For other books that use nature as an antagonist, look here.

Mental Illness/Addiction

This may be unfair, but a character with mental illness can be the antagonist. This might take the form of an alcoholic like The Girl on the Train, or a character being a complete psychopath like Gone Girl. I read a book by Lisa Unger where her male MC went completely delusional, living his “perfect life” in his head while his real life fell apart. Characters who believe they are going crazy like The Woman in Cabin 10 are their own antagonists. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a human antagonist, as the case with The Woman in Cabin 10, but the plot is even murkier and the characters harder to trust if they are suffering from a mental illness or addicted to drugs.

Unreliable narrator is what this writing trend is called, or Grip-Lit as Tara Sparling likes to call it. To read her blog post about the subject, click here.

Other books where the character is also a psycho, I mean, antagonist, and/or battling addiction:

The Shining Stephen King
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
The Flight Attendant Chris Bohjalian


Antagonists aren’t always cut and dried, like a kidnapper in a mystery, or a serial killer in a murder thriller, but that doesn’t make the story boring when the antagonist deviates from what we normally think of as the villain. I frequently use blackmail and secrets in my stories.

As a new writer, you may not fully realize that an antagonist does not need to be a real person, and you restrict yourself if you feel you need to put a human into this role.

I just finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and while there was a real flesh and blood antagonist holding those people hostage, the women’s center where the story takes place is just as much the antagonist in the story for the feelings, emotions, ideals and heartbreak that building stands for, for the people being held in that clinic.

An antagonist is anything that works against your character to keep them from what they want. If you don’t have a flesh and blood human to do that, what do you have? A cemetery like in Pet Semetary?  A sinking ship like the Titanic? A concept like freedom in The Purge?

Open your mind to what a good antagonist can do for your story. Maybe it will be an AI like Hal, or maybe it’s infertility like The Children of Men.

Whatever you choose–make it hurt.

Those make the best antagonists, and those make the best stories.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

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How Much Research Do You Do?

How much research do you do for your books_

Any writer knows doing research is critical. Different kinds of papers and essays require different kinds of research. Even some of my blog posts require a bit of research–at the very least I like to add additional links to the ends of some of my posts so my readers can look to other opinions and other resources.

This is where the old axiom “write what you know” comes in. Not to get out of having to do research, but because as you are learning craft–character arcs, plot, finding your voice and wrestling with syntax, grammar and punctuation–it’s easier to focus on learning those things without the added burden of researching and incorporating what you find into the story, too, not to mention doing it in a believable way.

How much research do you do for your books2

Writing a police procedural without any law enforcement exposure would be difficult, I imagine, without immersing yourself in research. The same with writing about doctors, lawyers and any other professional occupation with which you may have little to no knowledge or education.

The last thing you want your readers to say is “That’s not right” or “It doesn’t happen like that” or worse yet, someone who actually does the occupation you’re writing about saying, “That’s not true at all.”

Some professionals who have gone into writing are Tess Gerritsen and John Grisham, a doctor and lawyer respectively.

Wikipedia has this to say about Tess: “In 1996, Gerritsen wrote Harvest, her first medical thriller. The plot was inspired by a conversation with a retired homicide detective who had recently traveled in Russia. He told her young orphans were vanishing from Moscow streets, and police believed the kidnapped children were being shipped abroad as organ donors. Harvest was Gerritsen’s first hardcover novel, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list at number thirteen. Following Harvest, Gerritsen wrote three more bestselling medical thrillers: Life Support, Bloodstream, and Gravity.”

Wikipedia has this to say about John: “John Ray Grisham Jr. is an American novelist, attorney, politician, and activist, best known for his popular legal thrillers.”

As you can see, it was easy for them to segue into the types of books they started writing because their backgrounds supported the subject matter.

castle_richard_castle_kate_beckett_stana_katic_nathan_fillion_98247_2363x1615Some research is pretty hardcore–think Richard Castle shadowing Kate Beckett in Castle. The chances of a a police department, in New York City, nonetheless, allowing a civilian to shadow a homicide detective seems pretty slim–even if you are a bestselling author who is friends with the mayor. But lots of police departments host ride-a-longs as part of community outreach, and that could be a small in for and of you who wants to write about being a cop. This is what I get when I Google police ride along for my area.

The internet makes research easy–Google Maps can show you pictures of anything in the world. It’s how I wrote parts of Wherever He Goes, when Kat and Aiden were on their road trip. They traveled through states I have never been to before. I even made up the casino they visited in Las Vegas because I have never been to Las Vegas and I couldn’t accurately describe a casino there. I spent hours pouring over photos and descriptions of various parts of the United States to get their settings just right. It was only after they eventually moved into familiar territory that I relaxed.

Settings are hard because not only are you dealing with the actual land formations, you have to think about temperature, climate, and bugs. Kat finds a scorpion in her hotel room. I had to research that, too, because I assure you, I have never seen a scorpion anywhere but behind glass at our zoo. And I plan to keep it that way.

When I wrote Don’t Run Away, Dane owned his own store. I’ve been in a running shoe store many times, but I’ve never run my own business. So I had to talk with someone who had. And yeah, real-life store owners run a tight ship financially–so I wrote Dane broke–but he was doing what he loved.

I’m well aware I’m lucky. Writing a romance ensures I can focus on the romance of the story and not have to get bogged down with details of a character’s occupation.

I like to think I know enough about life in general that if I decide to write a heroine who works at a bakery (or who owns her own) she’s up at 2 am and baking by 3 so she has pastries to sell by the time her store opens at 7. There’s no way she’s going in to work at 9–not unless she has help. And she very well could. Just be sure she can afford to pay her employees.

I’ve written my heroes into occupations I know nothing about, and I’ve done the minimal amount of research required to be able to say, this is what they do, and that’s about it. When I wrote about Aiden screwing up a big case as an Assistant District Attorney, I modeled his case after the OJ Simpson trial. I watched a lot of footage from that trial and read a lot of articles. His story in the book wasn’t about him losing the case, or why, it was about him being able to move past the fact that he did, and what that meant for his career and the rest of his life.

In Romance, their tragic backstories, personal demons, and falling in love take up the most space on the page.

But I’m fully aware that if I ever wanted to stretch my wings as an author (and I know I will want to at some point) or delve into another genre like Women’s Fiction, I’ll need  more than just a romance to carry the plot, and that will probably require more research than I’m used to doing.

I read an interview with Jennifer Egan about Manhattan Beach, and boy, did the woman research. You can read about her process here.

What’s funny though, is when I speak to other writers, they say the more research they do, the richer their story becomes because they have more facts and details at their disposal.

I truly believe this. But as an indie, the pressure to crank out books is stifling, and it’s hard to give up writing time for research no matter how useful it will end up being.

I’m reading A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult, and the amount of research and the number of people so spoke with . . . it’s crazy. Not to mention the hours of shadowing she did. It was more than nailing down the details–she was recording thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the topics she was writing about that she also gained from the research. She has a bibliography in the back of her book two pages (front and back) long, and an acknowledgement section the same length.

This is another reason why I like romance–I love the idea of falling in love, being in love with love. I’ve had my heart broken. No research required to know how it feels when you fell someone you love them, but you don’t hear it back.

How much research do you do for your books3

It’s nothing short of devastating.

I wonder if this is why some indies start out writing fantasy. Everything comes from the imagination. The government, the currency. Magic, laws. The world-building is incredible. Everything from the ground up. This can be liberating–but it can also scare the crap out of you. To create a world from nothing . . . You still may need to research when you write fantasy–how do you saddle a horse, or do your characters ride bareback? What are the parts of a ship? What are parts of a castle called? When I was writing my fantasy, I had to research those things . . . but the magic, the laws, the kingdom, those were all mine.

Starting with what you  know can definitely help keep momentum going if you are a first-time writer. If you do end up exploring an area you aren’t familiar with, ask for help if you can find someone who is familiar with your subject material. At least they can point you in the right direction, or tell you if you are missing the mark.

Where do you go for research?

Let me know your favorite books and websites!

Here are a couple of mine:

If you want to know about any job occupation, did you know the Department of Labor has a list of job descriptions for everything? Take a look here.

Google Maps/Images has can show you everything you need to know about a setting.

YouTube. You can find almost anything on YouTube. Right now for Jared and Leah, I’m “learning” how to fly a little plane.

The How-To Books for Dummies. Immerse yourself in a occupation, and it can carry you for a long time. Like, if you’re writing a series about a lawyer. A little research could help you write many books in a series.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

photo of Tess taken from https://rizzoliandisles.fandom.com/wiki/Tess_Gerritsen and the photo of John was taken from https://www.penguin.com.au/authors/john-grisham
photo of Castle and Beckett taken from http://www.wallpapercraft.com

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When Friends Turn into Business Partners . . . Sometimes it doesn’t work out

friends to business parnters blog post

I’ve never met a community so full of people willing to help. I’ve met authors who will share anything and everything. How they use ads, how they write blurbs and the resources that taught them how. They share their favorite blogs, podcasts, promo sites, non-fiction books. There are even authors who will share how much they make in sales.

So many authors are helpful and generous. (And if you run into one who won’t share anything, well, keep an eye out. I’ve found those people are users, and you won’t get anything in return for the information you share with them.)

I’ve made a few friends on Twitter. Some are better friends than anyone I’ve met in real life. Some have come and gone. Some needed so much hand-holding it was physically draining to be friends with them. Some acted like their work was the only thing worth discussing, and I’ve faded away because I believe friendship should work both ways.

I’ve had some small successes as an author, and I like to share, too. It’s a horrible feeling to be snubbed when sharing something you’re proud of.

friends or enemies

But there are those who stick around–you feel a kinship, support goes both ways, and you settle into an online routine of touching base, reading each other’s blogs, retweeting news and book cover reveals, and helping with book launches.

Inevitably this will lead to your friendship moving more into a business relationship.

You’ll be asked to edit for someone or do a cover. Maybe she needs a critique partner or he needs a beta reader. It could even be as simple as doing an author interview for a blog.

Friendships can easily blur into business and while the transition feels easy and breezy, if you don’t treat that relationship with the respect it deserves, not only are you risking your business relationship with that person, your friendship will be broken as well.

The culprit of all this is the nonchalance and the cavalier attitude of writers. They aren’t treating their business with the respect it deserves, so they see no harm in treating you the same way.

I treat my books as a business. I always have and I always will. When I do something for you, I do it in a decent amount of time, and to the best of my ability. And that’s always what I’ve done.

business peers

But I haven’t always been treated with the same courtesy.

I paid someone to edit for me, and one day she told me she was editing my book while she was having her hair done at the salon. I guess it was too much to ask that she edit my book in a quiet place where she could focus. I paid another, and she waited months before even starting to edit my book. I have patience–I have two children, three cats, and an ex-husband. I have patience. But when you pay someone for a service, even if she’s a friend, you expect them to treat you with professionalism.

Those people were my friends. Circumstances being what they were at the time . . . they aren’t anymore.

What’s funny is recently one of them asked me for a favor. I guess it wasn’t so funny when I didn’t respond.

Most of the time I can separate friendship from business. (I treat my Twitter account as part of my business, and I rarely unfollow anyone for crappy behavior. Most times the only thing that will earn you an unfollow is if you do it to me first.) And I can stay in touch with someone friendship-wise even if we don’t/didn’t work together so well in the business aspect of things.

I edited for someone, and that didn’t work out like I had expected. We’re still friends because I expressed how I felt, and she apologized. I don’t hold grudges, but just like anyone else, I remember how people treat me.

When you treat someone like crap, you’re burning bridges, plain and simple. The author so quick to help you? They may not be so quick to pull through for you next time.

So what can you do to keep your friendships intact if it moves into business territory?

  1. Set boundaries and expectations.
    Before work exchanges hands, hammer out what expectations are. Does she expect to get paid? Is she doing it for free? Are you sure? Is there an expectation you’re going to help her down the road? Is there a deadline? Can your friend meet it? If she can’t, can you change it? If you’re too rigid with what you need, it’s better for your friend to pass. Which brings me to:
  2. Don’t be angry if your friend can’t meet your needs.
    A lot of indie business is trade and favors. Money doesn’t always exchange hands. That’s common when indies operate in the red–especially when just starting out. You may feel desperate because if this particular friend can’t help you, who will? People who know what they are doing, and willing to do it for free or on the cheap are few. If you need her, it’s YOUR job to bend, not hers. If you can’t, understand where she’s coming from, take a deep breath, and move on. While writing is a business, it will always come in secondary to children, jobs that pay the bills, and maybe even an evening of self-care if she’s had a bad day. If your needs are more important than that, hire out and pay for the priority. Your friend helping you isn’t a right–it’s a privilege.
  3. Keep communication open.
    Maybe you think she’s not working fast enough. Or you haven’t heard from her in a couple of days. Or worse yet, you haven’t heard from her, yet she’s posting on social media. It’s easy to go from simmering to boiling if you expect her to be working on your project but she’s posting a new blog post every day. It’s easy to get annoyed–trust me, I know. Maybe she already had them scheduled, and she IS working on your stuff. You won’t know unless you ask. If you need constant reassurance like daily updates, request it before you give her the project. That way you can remind her you asked.
  4. Keep social media in mind.
    When I edited for my friend, she never stopped posting her publication date. She was building buzz–I get that. But her manuscript needed work, and the more she posted and the more I edited, the angrier I became until eventually I felt like I was doing it for nothing. So remember–you are friends and she can see what you tweet, post on your Facebook author page, blog, and anything snarky by way of a bitchy meme on Instagram. But the same goes for her. If she’s tweeting she’s editing a pile of garbage, or the person she’s editing for is dumber than a box of rocks . . . you may need to rethink if you want her working on your project. A good friend doesn’t necessarily translate into a good business partner. (I would rethink my friendship with anyone who would put something like that out into the world, anyway.)
  5. Know when to quit.
    Ideally, you want to work things out before this step. If you can’t, the next best thing is to back out before your business relationship destroys your friendship. Be clear why you don’t want to work with him anymore. Try not to let hurt feelings muddy the water. He may have hurt your feelings, but that is only as a bi-product of unprofessional behavior that may not have been intentional. And don’t flip out if he has to back out on you. Maybe it has nothing to do with professionalism. His private issues are none of your business unless he wants to divulge them. That depends on how good of friends you are. But if it is due to not being able to work together, learn from the experience and move on. Having a truthful “We make better friends than business partners” talk can salvage a friendship. Don’t be defensive.

Not all friendships cum business relationships are going to fail. I’ve heard of several people who have worked together for years. There relationships are based on respect and a mutual admiration of each other’s work.

It’s up to you how much you can take–and it’s up to your friend what her limits are if you’re the one behaving badly. Publishing is scary and stressful, but alienating people who want to help you makes it more so. And it won’t do your career any good if someone labels you as difficult to work with. You may be passed up for opportunities and you won’t even realize it.

stressed out

If you’re the one slighted, do your best to move on. If that means you’re no longer talking to that person, so be it. Publishing IS stressful, writing, emotionally draining. You need to protect your mental health, too.

Friendships can come and go, but it’s difficult to repair a business connection.

Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when you’ll have to circle back.


To be clear, I didn’t mention any of my experiences to throw my friends and acquaintances under the bus. I mentioned them to demonstrate I know how it feels to be treated in a manner that is hurtful and unprofessional. I have other examples of people using my generous nature against me–to the point of a friend of mine saying I should stop helping people.

I couldn’t do that, though. For every one person who ignores what I offer, five people appreciate any information I can give them. Be it my favorite stock photo sites, or a reminder that KDP Print offers templates to format the interiors of paperback books.

For every one person who ignores my edits, another person’s writing is brought to the next level.

I’ll probably never stop helping people. I enjoy it too much. But neither am I a doormat, and if you treat me poorly, that’s on you, not me.

If you treat anyone without respect and kindness, you need to look inside yourself and figure out why. But the secret is no one has to be friends with you, no one has to do business with you, and one day you may very well find yourself alone.

being helpful

If you enjoy helping and being part of the writing community, don’t let one bad apple ruin the whole barrel. There are lots of people out there who need help–and one day you’ll find yourself in a group of friends you can trust to help you in return.

That’s what the writing community is all about.

photos taken from pixabay or canva. graphics made in canva.com

jared and leah for end of blog posts

More of My Adventures Going Wide (Paperback Update)

going wide girl on tracks blog post

Like a clock with dying batteries, my wide adventures are moving, but at a snail’s pace. That’s okay. I think about all the time that’s being wasted, but I’m not sure what I’d be doing anyway, besides what I’m already doing–writing the next book.

While nothing can happen with my ebooks–all I can do is wait for my trilogy to drop out of KDP Select–my paperbacks have seen some movement.

It may not seem like anything happens when you fill out forms and send emails, but people read them, and one day, out of the blue, they respond. I heard from both KDP Print and Ingram asking for permission to move my ISBNs and confirming my decisions, respectively.

Courteous and friendly, I responded to both inquiries, and as of writing this, my ISBN numbers have been moved from KDP Print Expanded distribution and are now available to be published by Ingram Spark.

What this means, however, is now I need to adapt each paperback cover to the Ingram Spark book cover templates as the templates between KDP Print and Ingram Spark vary slightly–enough to throw the text of your spine off. Only because Ingram’s paper quality is a bit better (so I’ve been told), making the spine measurements differ. You can see the templates are a bit different, just enough to make it a pain in the butt.

ingram all of nothing template for blog post

This is a screenshot of a PDF Ingram Spark sends you when you ask for a template book cover for your book.

 

5.5x8.5_Cream_290

This is the PNG of a KDP Print template.

Adapting covers seemed like a huge undertaking, and I asked a friend to do it for me. Since then she’s had a family emergency, and I’ll be doing them myself after all. That’s fine. I should know what I’m doing for future books. I thought I’d do all of them at once, but then it occurred to me I should only do one and order a proof to be sure my process works. It can’t be much different than submitting to KDP Print, but my covers are already done. The trick is to make them fit on the new template without rebuilding them from scratch. I have an idea on how to do this, but being I have never submitted to Ingram before, how I think I can get it to work will be an experiment.

So, progress is being made, but it is slow going, indeed.

I’m looking forward to the process , as it will bring me closer to my goals: asking the indie bookstore in my city to carry my books and possibly Barnes and Noble, even if it’s just in the local author’s section.

So, that’s the update. Once I start adapting the cover for All of Nothing, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Questions for me? Drop them here, or reach out to me at my email, vaniarheault at gmail dot com. While I can’t give you a full tutorial on how to do this, if you have a specific question you can’t find an answer for, let me know. I might be able to help.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

Book launches, book anniversaries and other musings about three years of hard work.

This morning I was reading a blog post my by friend, Sarah. It’s her book baby’s birthday today, and she’s celebrating her book turning one! And while I admit I’ve never celebrated a book’s birthday–hell, I rarely announce a launch–her blog post encouraged me to take a look back at my publishing milestones.

I don’t have my publishing dates memorized or anything like that, so I’ll need to go on to Amazon and take a look:


Under lock and key

I thought The Corner of 1700 Hamilton was my first book I published, but according to the dates, I actually published Under Lock and Key a week before on July 7th, 2016. It’s a novelette that I wrote from a writing prompt a dear friend of mind, Liz, tweeted one day. I haven’t read it for a long time, and no doubt it needs another edit. When I go wide, I’ll put it everywhere for free. It’s gotten some so-so reviews, but I can’t expect anything too great as it was the first thing I published.

 


the_corner_of_1700_h_cover_for_kindle

A week later, I published The Corner of 1700 Hamilton. This is a trainwreck of a book, as first books are wont to be. The original cover was horrible, and even with a beta reader and an editor, it still wasn’t up to par. Recently I went through one of my old paperbacks and edited both novellas, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever put them in. Even the “new” cover needs work,  but my mantra has always been “always look forward.” Having a sub-par book for sale doesn’t make me want to celebrate, however. So I may try to find time one day to fix it up.

 


I was still in novella mode when I decided to try my hand at erotica, and I wrote six novellas back to back for a total of (approximately) 155,000 words. I wrote all of them at once, hired an editor and published them together. Summer Secrets is about a group of friends who have sex, party, fight, and make up at a small lakeside resort during their summer vacation. For what they are, I’m actually quite proud of these; I had found my voice, and the interconnecting plots stand even without the sex.

Summer Secrets was a lot of work, but they made me a better writer. While I won’t be writing any more erotica, I don’t have any regrets taking the time to write these. They were published in August, 2017. I guess I didn’t realize I took a whole year to write them, edit them, format them, and do the covers, but at 155,000 words, I guess that’s not so bad, either. I redid the covers not long ago, and reformatted the insides using Vellum. I was even able to add the embellishments I tried for the first time around. They are pretty, and it’s too bad they aren’t in a genre I want to write anymore. I don’t consider them part of my backlist, but I won’t bury them the way I kind of blur over 1700 when asked about my backlist.

The covers look better, and the paperback covers look a lot nicer. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years, and I think it shows.

Summer Secrets Novellas 1-3 New Cover

summer secrets new cover 4-6

 

summer secrets chapter starts


I had Don’t Run Away done while I was doing these, and I can’t even say when exactly I fixed it up and decided to make it a trilogy.  I published the first on November 17th, 2017. I do remember while Summer Secrets was being edited, I wrote the second book of the trilogy. Later that became Chasing You which was published on December 14th, 2017. Running Scared was published in January of 2018. All I can say is when I look at those dates is holy crap. It helped I had Don’t Run Away done, and that was one tough book. It went through a lot of edits. I added POVs, took them out. Rewrote large sections. This was before I started listening to my novels as part of my editing routine, and I have no idea after the first one was beta read/edited, what I did with the others. I think by then I was confident in my own editing skills, but I doubt I was at the point I am today.

At any rate, they do okay, and during a Freebooksy ad, I gave away over 4,000 copies of Don’t Run Away. That promo led to the first wave of readers whom I hadn’t met via social media (AKA strangers), and I’m happy to have done it. I also proved that even though it feels like a quilt, all patched together, the book was strong enough to get decent read-through to the others. If you want to read about my Freebooksy promo results, look here. If you want to read some of my reviews on Goodreads, look here.

The best lesson I learned from writing the trilogy is to MAKE THE FIRST BOOK STRONG TO ENSURE READ-THROUGH. It won’t matter how many books you have in a series if your first book won’t carry them.

I’ve redone the covers, though they aren’t a drastic change, and I reformatted the insides using Vellum.

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I can tell you I was done with those characters by the time I finished Running Scared, and I didn’t think I’d ever do another series. I don’t want to say I was bored, because what would that say about my writing? But I will admit it’s nice to move on.

Wherever He Goes was published on June 1, 2018. It was the first stand alone novel I’d ever written–up to that point, even my novellas had been connected stories. I haven’t done much promo for that, though I did do a paid Bargainbooksy that didn’t do anything. Looking back at stats, I don’t even think the sales paid for the promo. If you want to look at my blog post about my results, look here.

There were a few firsts with this one: I had more beta readers, and I did the entire paperback cover in Canva. It looks amazing, and is still one of my favorite covers to date. I’ve had good feedback about the novel, and I enjoyed writing it. I need to do more promo for it, as I think it’s an enjoyable contemporary romance that should have more readers than it does.

Wherever He Goes (1)


All of Nothing, I feel, is my strongest book to date, and I believe in it so strongly, I entered it into the RWA RITA awards contest. It can more than hold its own against some of the traditionally published books out there, and when I did a Freebooksy promo for it, I gave away over 6,000 books. (If you want to read about those results, click here.) I love the way my ad for it looked in their newsletter, and bless them for making it the first book!

freebooksyadallofnothing

It didn’t place as high as Don’t Run Away on the free lists, simply because they are in separate categories. (Don’t Run Away is a sports romance.) But the book has more reviews than any other of my books. Published on October 16, 2018, it took me four and a half months to write it, edit it, format it, and release it. I had it beta read and proofed, and I’m very proud of how it turned out–from cover to cover.

All of Nothing Paperback Cover


The Years Between UsI don’t have any more published work out right now, though The Years Between Us is finished. I could have had it published already, but I’m working on a series that I won’t release until they are all done. I’ve been taking my time editing The Years Between Us, but at 74,000 words, it is a complete and finished novel. I don’t have the full cover completed, nor has it been fully edited, but I do plan to have it out into the world maybe by the end of March, or early April. There is no rush, as I don’t see my series being released until Christmas of this year. The first draft of the first book is finished, however, though I admit getting out of my recovery rut has been harder than I expected.


Anyway, so looking at those dates, seeing how hard I’ve worked . . . what have I learned through these two and a half years of publishing?

  1. Not many people care. Sure I may have a lot of followers on Twitter, may be a part of a lot of writing groups on Facebook, but unless your books are actually doing well, and you can prove it through sales, no one cares what you’re doing. Only a handful of my friends have patted my back, and that’s fine. My progress is for myself. I know I’m working hard, and I hope I can be an inspiration to others, whether my books are selling or not.
  2. You have to keep moving forward, or you’ll feel like you’re on a going down escalator trying run upstairs. With indie publishing, everyone is faster, quicker, doing more than you. Some are doing this in a legit way, and some are not. But for you, yourself, if you want to make any headway in the industry, always be moving forward. Don’t get caught in a rut because days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Just like my friend Sarah says in the blog post I linked to at the beginning, all of a sudden a year had gone by and she has nothing to show for it. 500 words a day over the course of 365 days in a year can net you 182,500 words in a year.
  3. Even when you’re doing the work, it will feel like you’re in quicksand. The harder you struggle, the faster you sink. I’ve done a lot of work these past couple of years, and if I kept track of my hours worked versus the time and expense, I would be negative in return on investment. You can’t let this get you down, or you’ll stop. Write for the joy of it first, so you always keep working at your dreams. And let success be a secondary motivator. My success will come–I’ll make sure it does. But I can’t guarantee when it will. All I know is if I stop working for it, I definitely won’t have it.
  4. It might be your baby, but after you publish it, it’s not your baby anymore. MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU. This reasoning is probably why I don’t celebrate my book birthdays. I don’t think of my books as babies. I think of them as products to be sold to help me make money. I do enjoy writing, or I wouldn’t do it. But I also want to make a profit so I can keep doing this, for the long-term. While I’ve stated I like my job, and yeah, my free time at work as helped me with my publishing speed, I would love to earn a living on my writing only. I can’t be precious with my work. I’m always learning about craft, always keeping up with the latest thing about publishing. Even if you’re persistent and want to keep comparing your books to babies, eventually you expect your children to go out into the world on their own and make their own money. Even real-life children grow up.

Thanks for sticking with me–this is probably one of the longest blog posts to date. I doubt I’ll do a recap again; as my backlist grows, it will just get too time consuming. But the look back was fun, and thank you again for joining me!

If you  want to read any of my books, you can check out my Amazon author page, here.

Wherever He Goes and All of Nothing have recently been added to Kobo, and you can find them here and here.

Thanks for reading!

Going Wide: The Saga Continues

going wide is like riding a bike

Can these guys save me? No? I guess they have better things to do! (Photo taken from Pinterest)

 

I didn’t think going wide with my books would be such a pain in the neck. Granted, it was my error, and something I should have checked and double checked, but I didn’t, so here we are. It’s not such a big thing, but it does push back my plans. A lot.

I didn’t pull one of my books out of Select. I thought I had. I thought I had pulled them all out. But I didn’t. And it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was the last book in my trilogy. I guess I just checked the wrong book one too many times, and was I surprised when I went to make sure they were all out to see that Running Scared had been automatically renewed for another three months.

That means I can’t go wide with my trilogy until May. Fine. Whatever. I could have still gone wide with the other two books, but that would have looked weird. So I put the other two back in Select and I’m just going to keep a better eye on it this time.

What am I doing, then?

I put All of Nothing and Wherever He Goes on Kobo. That’s the best I can do right now. I don’t have OCD, but I do have a certain way I like to do things, and having bits and pieces of my books all over the place would definitely give me anxiety.

I wanted to try out the Kobo landscape anyway, and uploading books to publish was surprisingly easy. The uploading process was smooth, and the online viewer worked quickly. I admit, I used a Kobo-ready file from Vellum, so that might have helped a lot. But I just put in my info, my bank stuff, uploaded, and there you go. Of course, one nice thing about Kobo is that it is run by actual human beings. Which means my book won’t be ready in the standard 72 hours KDP gives you. Kobo is closed for a holiday on Monday, and I don’t anticipate my books being fully published until next week. While that might irritate some, I think it’s great.

But this also pushed back a giveaway I wanted to do, and I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say I’m disappointed I had to do that. But when The Years Between Us is finally edited, I’ll put it both on Amazon and Kobo.

I’m not very interested in KU. While All of Nothing got a bit of traction from my Freebooksy giveaway, I need to explore more promos that don’t involve giving my book away–at least not to that extreme. I gave away over 6,000 copies. I want those to be sales.

think big start small

Next steps in going wide? Wait. Wait for my trilogy to drop out. Put up The Years Between Us on Amazon (but not KU) and Kobo. Try a new promo. Maybe do a Goodreads giveaway for it since I haven’t done that yet. Otherwise, yeah. Just wait, keep writing my series so I can rapid release that wide and see how sales go.


If you have questions about Kobo, they have a ton of resources.

Look on the Kobo Writing Life Blog for helpful articles and podcast episodes.

Killing it on Kobo by Mark Lefebvere. The creator of Kobo Writing Life, Mark knows the ins and outs of Kobo and how to maximize sales with your books.
Order his book on Amazon.
And Kobo, of course.